Hearing your child’s first word is one of the most highly-anticipated moments for any parent. While the joy of hearing your baby speak for the first time is a momentous occasion, a child’s communication development actually begins long before the first word. From the time they are born, children start communicating. Even during those first few months of life, babies learn to understand what you are saying and begin making sounds of their own.
One of the first tests your baby undergoes should be a newborn hearing screening; this quick, easy and painless screening should be carried out by an audiologist before you leave the hospital. In some provinces, early hearing detection and intervention (EHDI) programs will carry out this test automatically; if they don’t, you should ask about the availability of the service.
The ability to communicate effectively with others is the very foundation of a child’s social, emotional and educational development; and, research has shown that the first three years is the most critical period for growth.
Early identification and intervention of speech, language and hearing disorders is absolutely key: the earlier a communication disorder is identified, the better the chances for improvement or even recovery. Because learning is a cumulative process, difficulties early-on can have a cascading effect on the rest of a child’s life. A slow start out of the gate will mean playing catch-up for years to come.
Speech-language pathologists can help with language, speech and swallowing, and audiologists can help with hearing, balance and auditory disorders such as tinnitus (ringing in the ears). But the first step is up to you; for your child, parent, friend or yourself: being aware of the signs and knowing what to do are your most powerful tools.